In a trenchant comment on “Secretly Admiring,” Victor Lighthill writes:
Not to disrespect Ron Rivest or Credentica’s Stefan Brands, but patenting your ideas in crypto is, historically, a great way to ensure that it takes them 15 years to go from concept to use.
While there may be important grains of truth in this, and while I’ve railed against patents, and think the system is substantially flawed, I don’t think patents are the mainstay of what holds back new products.
When someone invents something fundamentally new—and much of what’s invented in cryptography does enable substantially new ways of allocating risk—the new idea needs to be the subject of experimentation. Much of this experimentation takes place in thought experiments and little prototypes. Some of it takes the form of startup companies trying to find the right combination of features to wrap around the core of it to bring something new to the market segments Geoff Moore calls ‘visionary’ or ‘early adopters.’ He spends much quite a few pages considering how companies can go from those markets to the ‘early mass market.’ (I shall now dramatically oversimplify his work in “Crossing the Chasm” and “Inside the Tornado.”)
Much of the transition involves creating a set of circumstances, including successful deployments in specialized markets and generating ‘recommenders’ who will advise others about their success with your product. All of this takes both time and money. It requires luck. It requires a vicious clarity regarding strengths and weaknesses, at the product, team and personal levels. It also requires crafting a message that aids potential customers see how your product can transform their lives or businesses.
The first messages that are crafted are almost always wrong. Edison thought that the telephone would be used to broadcast concerts and lectures. Great entrepreneurs can sometimes react and find a new message. It took a great deal of experimentation for the combination of air-conditioning and movies to be discovered, and for that form to really take off and create Hollywood.
Do patents slow down the process? Somewhat. There’s an awful lot more going on in entrepreneurship. Look at other bits of cryptography, not patented, like SSL or IPSec, and tell me that patents are the only issue. There’s clearly a lot more to be overcome.
(“London – Big Ben Tripout” by ‘Don’t look back!’)